Grad Story #17
Grad Story #17
MSc. in Geological Engineering
Where’s your hometown?
I was born in Grand Forks, but my parents moved to Bismarck (North Dakota) before I started school, so all of my education was in Bismarck. I came back to Grand Forks for my college education.
You did your undergraduate degree at UND and now you’re undertaking your Masters degree. What sparked your interest in Geological Engineering?
It’s in the family, I guess. I have an uncle who worked in the oilfields all his life. It started as an interest in Petroleum and the more more time I’ve spent here, I’ve realized that Geological Engineering can be just about anything. I am not an oilman anymore, but I’ve found other things that I like.
Geology and Geological Engineering are housed in the same building and school – how do they differ, and how are they similar?
Geologists study the earth, and the focus of Geological Engineers is to study how we use it, whether it’s mining or building on top it. Geological Engineers also focus on structures that can prevent and control natural disasters like floods, earthquakes, and tsunamis.
North Dakota is experiencing a lot of activity in the oil industry with the mining in the western part of the state. Has this impacted what you study or what the Department is offering?
The School of Engineering and Mines is adding a Petroleum Engineering program because of what’s going on in western North Dakota. We have always had a Petroleum professor and there have always been classes offered. The growth of the industry along with the core and sample library on campus has really sparked an interest in the department.
Can you talk about the Core and Sample library and the Petroleum Engineering Lab?
The Wilson M. Laird Core and Sample Library is the State Geological Survey lab on campus, and as students we have access to it. All wells drilled in North Dakota have logs and samples that must be sent to the library. The Petroleum Engineering Lab is a project that the department has been working on for few years and through grants we’ve been able to add new testing equipment. They’re a good resource for students who are doing their research theses, and they employ students, too.
What’s your main focus of research?
My topic is “Slope Stability and Geohazard Mapping of Lake Sakakawea”. Lake Sakakawea will be exposed to major growth as the oil industry continues to expand. Roads, buildings, and pipelines will be constructed near the lake in the future. Precipitation trends have also been increasing, so I want to see how susceptible the shoreline is to failures and whether or not these failures will have an impact on the infrastructure and surrounding areas.
Do you get to do much fieldwork?
The plan is to spend a week there this summer to collect all my soil samples, do the testing, and then use software to analyze and decide if the slopes are safe or not.
As a graduate student, what opportunities have you had to present your work?
I’m only now in my second semester so I don’t yet have a research abstract, but there are opportunities for our department, like the EPSCoR conference which was in Grand Forks last year, and The Graduate School’s Scholarly Forum. Whenever there is a conference our whole department knows about it and students get to participate and discuss their research. And there are national conferences like the GSA (Geological Society of America) national conference, which a lot of our students and faculty attend.
I imagine Geological Engineering is quite multidisciplinary – do you collaborate with any other departments across campus?
One of my committee members is the chair of Geography, because I am going to use historical images and then current geospatial data to do hazard mapping where we can’t access. We’ll look at how the shores have changed, and compared with what they look like now. They’re satellite images that we compare to the historical images. Erosion rate research has been conducted in the past. We won’t necessarily have to conduct our own, but we can observe how fast the lake is eroding.
How does undergraduate and graduate study differ?
Graduate school is more intensive, but as grad student, you are left more to your own devices. You’ve proven yourself as an undergraduate so learning is more the responsibility of the student. There’s a lot of freedom and if you’re teaching, you get to interact with students. In fall I teach Geology for Engineers, in Spring I am Teaching Assistant for Engineering Geology, and occasionally I help out with the Geology 101 lab.
Can you talk about mentorship as a graduate student?
The reason I chose UND is because I have the opportunity to have the same advisor for my graduate career as I did in my undergraduate. I’m working with Professor Lance Yarborough and he is by far the best professor I’ve ever had. I can stop into his office anytime, and he’s willing to help with anything. He’s just a great person.
Describe some of the challenges you’ve encountered.
The ideal situation would be that all grad students could get funding for their research, but that isn’t always available. The next best thing is teaching which, if you’re teaching 2 or 3 sections, that could be 4- 6 hours of lab a week, and then there’s preparation and grading. But it’s enjoyable because it’s in your field and you’re helping students to learn.
What advice do you have for prospective students?
Well, if they don’t mind the cold! I’m from North Dakota. I grew up here and I love it. Our department is small enough so you can walk down the hall and know almost everyone you run into. The professors are nice and there is always someone to help. Most of my grad classes are only 4 or 5 people. It’s different from undergrad. The sky’s the limit, really, with how much you want to learn.
Where would you like to take your degree?
I’d like to go into industry. The best case scenario would be to stay in North Dakota, but anywhere in mid-west would be fine. I’d like to work and get some experience, and may be a PhD at some point.